Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

Kentucky Derby party ideas
…And they’re off! Here are our favorite Kentucky Derby party ideas to help you celebrate the 144th year of the Kentucky Derby in style.


The Kentucky Derby has been held annually at Churchill Downs since 1875. Traditionally, the race is held every year on the first Saturday in May. In 2018, the 144th running of this classic race will be held on Saturday, May 5th. The Derby is the longest continually run sporting event in the United States, and has often been dubbed “the most exciting two minutes in sports.”

What does all of this mean for you and me? Well, it’s a great reason to gather friends and throw a party!

Read on to find some inspiration for your invitations, decorations, race day party activities, and some traditional Kentucky Derby recipes.

Kentucky Derby Party Invitations

Make your guests feel special before your party even starts by sending great invitations. Here are some Kentucky Derby party invitations that we found online at some of our favorite vendors:

Kentucky Derby Invitations
Kentucky Derby Invitations
Taste of Derby Invitations
Taste of Derby Invitations


**General Invitation Tips** — If you choose to make your own invitations, don’t forget to include the date, location, and time of your party. It is also helpful to put the host’s name, RSVP by date, and either your phone number or email.

Since this is a Kentucky Derby party, you might consider asking the ladies to wear their fanciest hats. You should also plan on starting your Derby party 2-3 hours before the actual race so that people can mingle, get a bite to eat, and make their bets on who the winner will be!

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas for Decorations

Kentucky Derby party hats

**For a fun Derby party craft, why not make your own
paper bag Derby hats!

There are lots of fun ways to decorate for a Kentucky Derby theme party. Decorations for a Derby party can be any colors that you choose, so you might start by finding a few fun decorating props and choosing the color of your balloons, streamers, and tableware to coordinate. Here are some more great Kentucky Derby party ideas to get you started:

Hats and More Hats! — Visitors to the Kentucky Derby are famous for their sense of fashion, most notably big, fancy ladies’ hats. You might suggest your party guests come dressed for the day, and use some fancy hats as fun table centerpieces.

Free Printables — Take a look at our party blog for some great free Kentucky Derby printables. Kentucky Derby printable bottle labels

The Run for the Roses — After the race in 1883 a New York City socialite handed out roses to all of the ladies present. Not long after this, red roses became the official flower of the Kentucky Derby. Today, the Derby is also known as “The Run for the Roses,” and large blankets of these flowers are draped over the winning horse. Incorporating roses into your Kentucky Derby party decoration is a great way to honor this tradition. Consider using small bouquets of roses on your tables, arranging red roses in elegant silver vases, or even handing out roses to your guests during the party.

Make a Racehorse Centerpiece — For a fun party centerpiece, tie a red ribbon to a model horse. For extra punch, you could surround this with roses, or add a colorful balloon bouquet. Horseshoes make a fun balloon weight for a Kentucky Derby theme party. You can often get free used horseshoes at a local barn or inexpensively at a farm store.

Set up a Hay Bale and Tack Photo Area — Set up a few hay bales and accent them with horse tack, if you have any, or items such as trophies, roses, a jockey helmet, and riding crop. This makes both a great party decoration and also a place where you can take pictures of your party guests to use as souvenirs or mementos of the day.

Here are some great Kentucky Derby party ideas for decorations and supplies:

Plastic Jockey Helmets
Plastic Jockey Helmets
Kentucky Derby Dinner Plates
Kentucky Derby Tableware
Kentucky Derby Beverage Cups
Kentucky Derby Party Cups


Play a Racing Movie — What better way to get the crowd in the mood for your party than by showing a movie such as Secretariat, Seabiscuit or Phar Lap in the background of your event.

Bluegrass Music — Make a great Kentucky bluegrass playlist for your party to get that southern feeling flowing. Be sure to also include Dan Fogelberg’s hit, “Run for the Roses”, and the classic, “My Old Kentucky Home”.

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas for Activities

Horse Race — Set up a course with a designated number of spaces (about 25). Get 3-6 volunteer racers. (Everyone else can bet on who they think the winner will be!) Have all of your racers line up on the starting line. Give each player a playing die (and for even more fun, give each racer a stick horse and a plastic derby hat.) On the count of three, have all racers roll their dice and move the number of spaces that they rolled. See who can get to the end of the race first. Pay out to everyone who bet on the right horse.

Play Horseshoes — This game is played to 21 points. Set up your stakes at opposite ends of your game area. Divide players into two even teams, and give each team two horseshoes. Flip a coin to decide which team will pitch first. Have the first player from the first team pitch both horseshoes (one at a time) from anywhere behind the foul line. Let the first player from the opposing team do the same, pitching toward the same stake. Award 1 point for a shoe within 6 inches of the stake, or for a shoe touching the stake (often called a “leaner”); a shoe encircling the stake (a “ringer”) earns 3 points. Often, amateurs choose to award 2 points for leaners. Let the next two players (one from each team) pitch the shoes from the opposite side of the court back toward your side. Add their points to the first scores until one team reaches 21.

Out of the Hat Betting Game — Write down all the names of the horses on pieces of paper. You can find a list of horses in the race at Feel free to add stats and information for each horse. Put the pieces of folder paper in a fun top hat or fancy Derby day hat and mix them up. Get everyone to make a “bet” by paying $1 and have them pull a name out of the hat. Watch the race. When the race is complete, the person that has the winning horse collects the pot. You can also offer a percentage of the pot for the first-place horse, a smaller percentage to the second-place horse, and an even smaller percentage to the third-place horse.

Horse Race Betting Pool — Prepare and hand out race stats and horse information to each of your guests and take their wagers. Create a poster board with a large block for each horse in the race. Have everyone at the party buy a horse’s block and have them write their name on it. They can do this for one or more horses and they can also enter their name under a horse more than once. Guests can also put their names in the same horse’s blocks. At the end of the race, take all of the money divided by the number of bets on the winning horse and distribute that percentage of the pot to each person who chose the winning horse.

Derby Hat Contest — Encourage your party guests to come dressed in their best! Have a contest for the best ladies’ party hat. You can designate categories, such as “most elegant”, “most creative”, “biggest”, “most colorful”, etc. Hand out roses to the winners.

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas for Food and Drinks

As with dress and d├ęcor, tradition plays a large role in Kentucky Derby recipes. Southern flavors and plenty of bourbon are the name of the game, and there are some particular foods and drinks that are especially associated with Derby time. Here are some of the most well-known Kentucky Derby recipes:


Kentucky Hot Brown recipe — (an open faced turkey and gravy sandwich)
Burgoo Recipe — A southern stew
Benedictine recipe — cucumber dip
Derby Pie recipe — Chocolate chips and pecans. Yummy!
Bourbon Balls — chocolate chips, pecans, and bourbon

Mint Julep recipe
Royal Stretch recipe
Sweet Tea

Kentucky Derby Party Favors

Send your guests home with a special memento of the day. Here are a few Kentucky Derby party ideas for favors:

Actual Churchill Downs Horseshoe Party Favors


Hope you found some helpful party ideas on this page. For more great information about the Kentucky Derby, visit Hope your celebration is a day at the races!

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